The curious case of Lutz Ebersdorf has been solved. To be fair, most had figured it out ages ago, but Suspiria filmmaker Luca Guadagnino and actress Tilda Swinton refused to come clean about the true identity of the elderly performer who supposedly fills the role of 82-year-old male psychoanalyst Josef Klemperer in the horror remake. We saw the character in the trailer, but the production notes for Suspiria claimed that Klemperer was played by German actor Lutz Ebersdorf and came complete with a lengthy biography and headshot for the “unknown” actor.
When asked if Swinton was actually the actor under all that makeup playing Klemperer, Guadagnino previously called the story “fake news”, aiming to keep this secret under wraps for as long as possible. But in an interview with the New York Times, Swinton has come clean. Indeed, she’s not only playing Klemperer, she also considers Ebersdorf to be a role of her as well:
“The answer to the question to me, ‘Are you playing Dr. Klemperer in Suspiria?’ is always that Dr. Klemperer is played by Lutz Ebersdorf,” Swinton told me last week in an email. Yet there is a more specific question she has been waiting for someone to put to her, “and curiously, to date, nobody has thought of it.” That query, if anyone had bothered to ask, is “Are you playing Lutz Ebersdorf?” And the answer, Swinton said, is “an unequivocal yes.”
While Swinton is known to delight in playing varied roles in films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Only Lovers Left Alive, Guadagnino actually had a thematic reason to put Swinton in the role of Suspiria’s only prominent male character:
Guadagnino had always conceived Suspiria as a movie about female identity, and to cast Swinton in the only significant male role, would ensure that “there will always be this element of femininity at its core,” Guadagnino said. “Being a film about the fantastic, it was important that we did not play by the book.”
When Swinton was in makeup for Klemperer, she preferred for the cast and crew to address her as the fictional actor Lutz Ebersdorf. But she took playing a man to an entirely different level by having Oscar-winning makeup artist Mark Coulier create male genitalia for her to wear:
“She did have us make a penis and balls,” Coulier said. “She had this nice, weighty set of genitalia so that she could feel it dangling between her legs, and she managed to get it out on set on a couple of occasions.” And where is Swinton’s superfluous genitalia now? “Probably in a box somewhere!” Coulier said brightly. “I should try and find it, and put it on a plaque on the wall of my workshop.”
Guadagnino admits he was bummed when set photos leaked two years ago that pretty plainly showed Swinton in this old age makeup and spoiled the ruse, and Swinton said she had hoped the secret would be kept forever, killing off Lutz during the edit and dedicating the finished film to his memory. That said, it’s kind of neat to know going in that Swinton is playing these two characters (technically three—you’ll understand when you see the film), especially since her turn as Klemperer isn’t part of some big reveal in the film. She’s simply a woman playing a man in a horror film about femininity. One imagines few would have had the imagination or gusto of Swinton and Guadagnino to pull this off, so kudos to them.
Suspiria hits theaters on October 26th. Click here to read Haleigh’s rave review.